11 May 2013

How to Write A Conclusion for an Essay: for English Exams, for Coursework: GCSE, IGCSE, A-Level (ish)

You've sweated ink all over the page for the last forty five minutes and now you're losing the will to live. What next? The conclusion, of course! Here are some quality tips from the masters at major public schools.

'Make sure you finish convincingly.  A vague summing up will blunt even the sharpest of arguments, and will dissipate the essay’s energy.  Rather than ‘winding up’ in general terms, finish on a specific, provocative point.  As with your opening, your concluding statement should be expressed crisply and memorably: if you are no wit, use rhetoric instead.  Keep it short: it’s better that your reader should want more than be bored.'
'The End
Like the beginning, it should be firm and interesting. Beware of the twin pitfalls of irrelevance on the one hand, and dull repetition (often a mechanical “summing-up”) on the other. Remember that your last paragraph and last sentence will be most fresh in the reader’s mind when he assesses your quality as a writer.
You may proceed to a generalisation, basing it on the details that you have set out in the body of the essay; you may introduce an anecdote, example or quotation that sums up without repetition; you may end with a firm and logical “Q.E.D”.
Like the beginning, the end will vary according to the kind of composition and the judgement of the writer, but it must be clear and relevant. On no account begin your concluding paragraph with the words “And thus we see that …”.'

Here is a whole bunch of conclusions to GCSE and IGCSE level English essays written by moi - (I'm an Oxford graduate). Just so you know, if you're answering a short question, fewer than 8 marks, I would only write a very very short conclusion, if any. Get help with How to Write the Introduction to an Essay here.

IMPORTANT: in my conclusions, I NEVER repeat anything I've already said. You can check this if you read the whole essay. In other words - I make my last main 'point' into my conclusion.

If it's a 45-60 minute essay, you'll definitely need to write something. Here are some examples:


...for an essay on character in Animal Farm (read the whole essay here)'Compare how Orwell portrays Snowball and Napoleon.'
[conclusion]
In conclusion, Orwell portrays Napoleon as the personification of the proverb: ‘power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely’, although, it’s arguable that Napoleon was corrupt from the start . He was ‘fierce’ from the beginning and ‘had a reputation for getting his own way’, but previously was held in check by Old Major, Jones and for a time, by the balancing force of Snowball. Napoleon is meant to represent Stalin, but is actually much milder - in the same way that Snowball seems to be idealised as the perfect alternative. Orwell didn’t know Stalin allegedly killed twenty million (or more), or his portrayal may have been much worse. Selling Boxer’s old body for ‘whisky’ is disgusting, but not disgusting enough to capture the reality.

...for an essay on 'Ozymandias' (poetry) (read the whole essay here)'What do we learn about the character of Ozymandias in this poem?'
[conclusion]
Ultimately, the statue, and the words of the king, Ozymandias, are symbols of the transience of man’s greatness and self-belief.

...for an essay on 'Havisham' (read the whole essay here)'Explore how relationships are presented in Havisham.'
[conclusion]
This relationship is one of a broken mind with the suffering that distorts it. Whatever relationship was there once, bears little relationship to this virulent, swelling disease of the: 'lost body' 'mouth in its ear' and the nightmares from which she says, 'I suddenly bite awake'. Waking, the nightmare continues.

...for an essay comparing two poems (read the whole essay here)'How do 'Summer Farm' and 'Cockroach' deal with themes of identity?'
[conclusion]
In conclusion, both poems take a challenging, rather troubled view of identity. Halligan compares himself to a cockroach, suggesting darkly that he may have committed a ‘vicious crime’, and he gains self-awareness; he ‘recognised’ himself in the cockroach. MacCaig uses the scale of the universe - in space and time - to show human insignicance, but also shows us his power as a poet to create something that seems real but unreal at the same time. He’s tiny, in the centre of the farm, but also huge: he can ‘lift the farm like a lid.’

...for an essay on 'Remember' by Christina Rossetti (get the complete essay here)'How does Rossetti use language and structure to get across the theme?'
[conclusion]
If the speaker is Rossetti, this is a dark, fearful poem. She fantasises about her death. As it continues, she gradually relinquishes her grip on life, gladly gaining freedom in the dark, and the ‘corruption’ (of her flesh). Finally, she gives up any claim to be remembered, sacrificing the last fragments of her identity, telling the addressee not to feel guilty for forgetting she existed.'

...for an essay on 'Gooseberry Season'. (Read the whole essay here).How does Armitage make the theme of destruction so memorable in 'Gooseberry Season'?
[conclusion]
'In conclusion, the final stanza gives an inadequate summary: drawing together the image of the ‘gooseberry season’ with that of the family ‘five equal portions’ including the dead man. It gives no explanation, no justification - though it ends, with vile irony, with the words ‘I mention this for a good reason’. There is no good reason, and that’s the point. The word ‘hell’ in the penultimate line is not accidental.'

By now, you may have noticed an emerging theme:

  • I've recently started using the words 'In conclusion' just to let the reader know I'm nearly done. Yes, it's cheesy (and the essay is more elegant without it) but it gets the point across. Omit this if you're a confident A-A*;
  • I never repeat stuff I've already said;
  • I often finish poetry essays with an analysis of the final stanza - the bit after the volta - or the end of the novel/play. Because this section often sums up the text, it's a great way to sum up an essay;
  • I usually keep on quoting right to the bitter end - finding some quotation that sums up the whole point of the question;
  • I like to give a final answer to the exact words of the question based on all the evidence I just analysed.
Get more on how to analyse poetry here, get model essays by poet here or click here for Edexcel IGCSE and here for Cambridge IGCSE only.

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